From the Home Office in Kerak, Jordan: “Philip’s Top Ten Communion Experiences”

April 7, 2012

Communion / Eucharist

OK,  I admit it!  If you don’t know by now I’m a little strange and just a bit of a dork.  As I mentioned yesterday, in my blog about “My Favorite Meal” (http://wp.me/p24qvW-34 ), I’ve learned to love the Lord’s Supper over the years.  In fact, it’s so special to me that I even have a mental list of my “TOP TEN Communion Experiences”.    Weird, right?  Well, there aren’t quite ten, but there are some amazing moments celebrating at the Lord’s table that stick out to me and were forever etched into my memory as special.

These are in no particular order but here are a few of my most memorable communion experiences:

*June 1991 –  Bryansk, RUSSIA (CCCP)    First a bit of background:

I’m a child of the 80’s.  I grew up with films like Red Dawn and Rocky III, where Russians were the bad guys.  Ronald Regan had called the USSR, the “Evil Empire” and some people still lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust.    At that time in America, the Soviet Union and Russians were feared and reduced to stereo-types much like Arabs and Muslims often are today.

I never had a desire to visit Russia but when we Dr. Gresham talked about an upcoming trip at an SNU chapel during my freshman year of college, something  in my spirit told me that I needed to go.  It was my first missions trip outside of the US.

We met the most amazing Russian Christian believers who had a vibrant faith and shared their homes and hearts with us and were more than ready to share their faith and make the most of the changing political climate in their country.   We witnessed people grabbing for bibles like they were starving and we were passing out prime rib dinners.   Many people were crying as they received the Bibles because they had never seen one before or been allowed to even look at one.  In many ways, it was a trip that forever ruined us – in a good way.

I was privileged to use my first outhouses (one even had a seat!) at the village homes where I stayed.  One morning, we awoke to hear the local informants for the KGB at the small village where we were staying yelling loudly at the host family who had opened their home to us.   Apparently, the loud Americans carrying their large pieces of luggage across the village roads caused quite a stir the previous day.  The host family gallantly defended us and God made a way even though our visas were only officially for a visit to Moscow.

We feasted.  The Russian Christians gave us their best.   Many of them had never met Americans before and they honored us with the best that they had.  Giving up their own beds and feeding us enormous amounts of food including the best potatoes that I’ve ever eaten (sorry Idaho).

The last day of our outreach we came back together as group to a large Baptist Church in Bryansk, after ministering and working in various villages.   We were over 50 college students from SNU, Point Loma and other Nazarene colleges together with a large group of our Russian hosts,  We worshiped and a shared a meal and the Lord’s Supper together. It was the first time that I’d ever had real wine for communion.   Don’t tell anyone but I think some of the Point Loma guys had a second round!  Seriously, it was beautiful experience.   Russians and Americans.  Not enemies but fellow believers. One cup.  One body.

On my return, I’ll never forget sharing stories from my trip with my maternal grandfather about the incredible hospitality of the Russian Christians.   The tall WWII veteran had tears streaming down his face,  “they are just like us”  he said.

Real communion always breaks down walls reminding us that our so called enemies are “just like us” and that in reality we are “just like them”  and that ultimately we are all in need of God’s grace.

*Oct. 1994 – John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD

His sister and my then fiancée was fighting for her life.  Bill had flown up from college to be with her.   Bill and I took turns at Amy’s side during the nightshift when she was in ICU at John Hopkins while their parents, Jerry and Toni went home to get some rest.   I don’t think we talked too much at all that week as we were catching up on sleep whenever we weren’t with Amy or in the waiting room.  However, that was the week that I felt most bonded to Bill and felt that he forever became my brother.

As we prayed for his sister, we decided to share the Lord’s supper one evening in an end lobby on a floor of John’s Hopkins Hospital.  We were  desperate for a miracle. The closest thing to communion elements  that we could quickly gather were a couple of Nutter Butter cookies and some Juicy Juice.   I know this sounds crazy but that cookie and Juicy Juice really were the body and blood of our Lord to us that day.  It was a communion service that I’d never forget nor the power of communion to bond brothers fighting for a common cause in love and to remind us how big our family really is.

*Jan. 2004 – Third Wave Nazarene Youth Conference, Quito, Ecuador

It was a conference that I wasn’t even supposed to attend.   I could write a chapter or two in a book about some of the  God moments and connections that happened there as well as God’s reminder to me that even the broken periods of my life and past grief weren’t to be wasted.

However, for our purposes here what stands out was the truly international spirit of the entire event and the closing communion service and foot washing as led by the vision and words of then NYI General  President – Pastor Deidre Bower.

Some years earlier, I had been a delegate to the Nazarene Youth International Conventions as a high school student and later as a college student.  I’ll never forget sitting next to some of the international delegates who had a good spirit but didn’t quite get everything. “This is an AMERICAN conference”, they proclaimed, laughed and tried to make the most of it.   Yet, sadly I knew it was true.    Even though we had elected to call ourselves  NYI – Nazarene Youth International, everything was ran basically as an AMERICAN event.  For much too long we had been international mainly in name only.   However, at Third Wave, (even though it was still a bit lopsided on the amount of American delegates),  I sensed that we were beginning to truly attempt to live out what “international” really meant..   I had been to Nazarene General Assemblies and Conventions since I was four years old, yet this appeared to be the first Nazarene global event that I had attended that attempted to be “international”  in the fullest sense of the word, to the extent that the agenda was on equal footing for all delegates and everyone was a full participant.  Even music and  worship was multi-lingual.  As, we took communion together that evening,  I was thankful to be a part of a church that embraced it’s international call and was welling to try to gradually learn what it meant to live that call out.

Much like the symbolism of a name like NYI or the  “International” Church of the Nazarene which represents a reality that wasn’t always practiced at first and in many ways still isn’t fully a reality, there is powerful symbolism in the act of Communion.  It’s a reminder of our true identity, even if we are still learning how to live that out.  It’s a reminder to the people of God of who we are called to be and the unity that God longs for and died for even as we learn to truly and fully flesh that out.  It’s a symbol reminding us of  His call and cry that we might be ONE – united to Him and to each other.

*Northern Iraq –  When I first moved to Jordan, some of my first and best friends were young Iraqi believers.  We were both in a foreign country and away from our own families.  I quickly came to love these dear brothers in Christ.   At one time, I thought God might be calling me to go to Iraq.   For various reasons that door never opened but I always considered it an honor and privilege to pray with and encourage some of the young Iraqi brothers who were returning to their homeland themselves.

Finally, the opportunity came to visit Northern Iraq with my director and dear friend Lindell.  What a privilege to worship with these dear brothers, two of whom were some of those early friends from my time in Jordan!

We closed our time there with a foot washing and communion service.   Two groups of Iraqis that don’t normally get along themselves joined together with two goofy Americans in worshiping Christ and sharing the Lord’s table.   All, I could do was say, “thank you God for blessing me and allowing me to be a part of your beautiful diverse family around the world!”

*Spring 2010 in a Messianic church outside of Tel Aviv – It was a closing communion service after some meetings with leaders from various ministries in the Israel and Palestine.   It wasn’t necessarily that the communion service was a powerful experience for me personally but it reminded me of the cost of communion unity and the beauty of it.  In the preceding weeks there had been some harsh words exchanged between a Messianic Jewish leader with a Palestinian Christian leader over the nature of a conference held in the West Bank.   Those two leaders chose to take communion together that day.  Both their theological and political ideologies were worlds apart yet they loved Jesus and were committed to Him.   And they were learning the cost of loving each other.   I had the privilege of riding back to Jerusalem with the Palestinian Christian leader.   He told me how significant that communion experience was to him and how important.   Alex hadn’t changed his theological or political views and still wasn’t afraid to address the real issues of justice that concern His people.  Yet, he wasn’t going to allow those differences to keep him from communion and dialog with His FRIEND and BROTHER in Christ.   I was in awe as I listened to this man of God on our drive back.

*Garden Tomb,  Jerusalem –  Even though history points to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the most probable place of the burial and resurrection of Christ, there is still something special about the Garden Tomb.  Whether or not it was the actual site, it gives a great picture and visual of what the tomb might have looked like.  And I love that in the midst of the noise, crowds and craziness of the streets of Jerusalem that the Garden is an oasis of beauty, quite and peace.

Almost every visit and tour of the Garden Tomb ends with a communion service.  I’ve been blessed to visit numerous times with various groups and friends.    There isn’t one particular instance that stands out but there are a couple of ones that I can’t forget.

While in a rush facilitating activities for Nazarene youth leaders including my friend Gary Hartke and the suits from Kansas City, I forgot to request that the Garden Tomb use grape juice in the elements they were preparing for us.   As I led the service, I realized in mid gulp that we were drinking real wine.  Well, if it’s good enough for Jesus, I guess it’s good enough for me!

Another time my friend, Pastor Kerry Willis was leading a communion service in the garden for a group from his church in Harrisonburg.  Kerry was preaching about the benefits and blessings that God had provided for us through the cross and resurrection – life, hope, joy and holiness and what this cup of communion represents and how we should take it all in.   It was a really good word and in a moment of joy one thought flashed through my mind.  “Amen” just wouldn’t suffice, and I almost blurted out “I’ll Drink to that!”

So next time you have communion, allow God’s Spirit to gently speak to you and remind how incredibly awesome this meal is and the vast incredible truths it represents.  And in your quiet solemness, don’t forget the mystery of the joy that was set before Christ, enabling us to “Drink up!”

Ok…My apologies  for another lengthy blog.   I originally intended to just share one of these experiences a day over a week or two.   However, in light of Holy Week, I’ve gone for the shot gun approach.  Sorry about that.    I may re-post them in smaller doses on a later date.  Tomorrow on resurrection Sunday, I’ll share what ranks as probably the most powerful communion experience for me on a very personal level that forever changed how I thought about this incredible sacrament along with a profoundly intimate story that provides the background for it.

What’s one of  your most memorable communion experiences?

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